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Your name: Michael Wakefield

Deadline: 12/01/05

Name of Scholarship: Elder & Leemaur Publishers University Writing Scholarship

Date: 2/9/08

HYDROGEN: AN ALTERNATIVE FUEL

I believe hydrogen, the most abundant


element in our known universe, is an
alternative to oil that makes sense. It
burns efficiently (up to 90%) and once
consumed in a fuel cell, its byproduct is
water (as opposed to carbon dioxide in a
traditional gas combustion engine).
In 2002, President George W. Bush
launched his FreedomCAR initiative to
promote hydrogen power research in
vehicles. Over 200 million dollars yearly is
available for research into making
hydrogen powered vehicles a reality.
General Motors is spending heavily on
research into hydrogen-fueled cars and
has prototypes in testing. GM is also
investing over a billion dollars into building
a refueling infrastructure for hydrogen
cars (they have recently been advertising
this fact in major magazines). Ford piloted
a project with the State of Florida last year
with 30 hydrogen-fueled cars.
Hydrogen can also be used to heat
homes where heating oil, electricity and
natural gas are traditionally used. A
compact hydrogen fuel cell from a vehicle
in the future could generate more energy
than the car needs. The fuel cell could
then be transported from the vehicle to a
home where excess energy can be used
to power the home.
There are many areas where there are
commercial challenges to making
hydrogen energy a reality. I will list a few
here.
First, hydrogen fuel cells are currently
too heavy. Vehicles require enough
hydrogen for 300 to 400 mile capacity
according to a typical consumers mindset
and expectation. This requires the
hydrogen to be compressed and the tank
must be able to withstand the
compression. This adds weight. Safety is
also a consideration in consumer
commercialization and adds extra weight
to the tank for safety concerns.
Second, hydrogen fuel cells cost more
to manufacture than current combustion
engines. The cost needs to come down
for consumer commercialization. The cars
should be less expensive as a whole to
manufacture with less parts and
subsequently less weight in the vehicle in
the finished product. However, the
majority of cost is in the hydrogen fuel cell
and storage.
Third, we need to generate the
hydrogen. We need renewable sources of
energy like solar and wind power in order
to generate the amount of hydrogen
needed on a national scale. Again, we
have inefficiencies to overcome in solar
and wind power generation. This is quite
puzzling seeing that solar power has been
commercially available for over 20-30
years.
To me, hydrogen power makes sense.
Hydrogen fuel cells, in particular, make
the most sense with portability and dual
purpose energy usage in the car and the
home a possibility. An example of this
reality is in a product that Time magazine
recently announced as one of the Best
Inventions 2005. The ENV hydrogen fuel
cell bike has a portable hydrogen fuel cell
that can power a motorcycle or removed
and used to power a home or boat.